Tag Archives: Aston Villa

Memorable Matches: Everton 2-3 Aston Villa (December 2008)

Goalscorers: Steve Sidwell 1, Joleon Lescott 30, 90 + 3, Ashley Young 54, 90 +4

Teams:

Everton: Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott, Joseph Yobo, Phil Neville (Andy van der Meyde 85), Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini, Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar, Victor Anichebe (Leighton Baines 87)

Aston Villa: Brad Friedel, Carlos Cuellar, Curtis Davies, Martin Laursen, Luke Young, Gary Barry, James Milner, Stiliyan Petrov, Steve Sidwell, Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor

Referee: Martin Atkinson, Attendance: 31,922

In the 2008-2009 season, Everton and Aston Villa were considered as the most likely challengers to the traditional top four teams at the time of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool FC. The pair met each other in December 2008 at Goodison Park and produced an afternoon of terrific entertainment and a gripping conclusion.

With only one home win all season upto this point, Everton were desperate to improve that statistic but they made the worst possible start, falling behind with the first shot on goal. James Milner teed up Steve Sidwell who crashed his shot past Tim Howard inside 34 seconds. It was the fastest goal of the 2008-2009 Premier League season so far and Sidwell’s third for the club.

David Moyes’ side responded well to the early setback despite missing star strikers Louis Saha and Yakubu because of injury. Tim Cahill got in behind Carlos Cuellar but his shot was palmed away by Brad Friedel before the American goalkeeper made a more straightforward stop to deny Marouane Fellaini.

Everton were doing all the pressing and equalised deservedly on 30 minutes. After Cuellar had impeded Cahill, Mikel Arteta’s cute free-kick was flicked on by Leon Osman and lifelong Villa fan Joleon Lescott escaped the attentions of Martin Laursen to poke the ball beyond Friedel. It was a nice way for Lescott to celebrate his 350th career appearance.

Into the second half and Everton were still bossing proceedings. Fellaini’s height was causing Villa major problems, especially at set-pieces. From numerous corners, he was winning headers all afternoon. One of them hit the crossbar when unmarked. It looked like a bad miss but replays showed Friedel had produced a late intervention, sticking his hand up to tip his effort onto the bar. It was unconventional but effective and moments later, the visitors had regained their lead. Phil Jagielka had a nightmare moment with a dreadful backpass that allowed Ashley Young in for a simple finish.

Three minutes of stoppage-time were signalled and it looked like the Toffees had rescued a point when Jagielka and Cahill won headers and Lescott had gone forward again to produce an acrobatic effort that beat Friedel to level the scores. Martin O’Neill’s side were crestfallen but had one final chance. Gabriel Agbonlahor played Young through who seared past Lescott and coolly slotted his shot into the bottom corner to win the match for Aston Villa with the last kick of the game.

It had been a great game and the Villans had shown great determination to snatch all three points despite being dominated all day in the aerial battle. Ultimately, Everton finished above them in the table but neither was quite able to break the stranglehold on the top four by the end of the season.

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Great Goals: Stiliyan Petrov – Derby County vs. ASTON VILLA (April 2008)

One of Aston Villa’s biggest-ever Premier League victories was this 6-0 annihilation of hapless Derby County in April 2008. It also saw an amazing strike from the very likeable Bulgarian international, Stiliyan Petrov.

Roy Carroll played his part in it. The Derby goalkeeper’s clearance was poor but Petrov still had a lot to do. He brought the ball down with his chest and on the half-volley and his weaker foot; he went for goal from distance. Carroll was desperately scrambling to get back but the shot flew over the top of him and into the net. It was easily the best goal of the six Villa goals at Pride Park that afternoon.

Petrov was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in March 2012 which saw his professional career come to an untimely end but he was a marvellous player with an eye for goal from distance which he demonstrated here to perfection.

Seasonal Stories: Aston Villa (2006-2007)

The Lerner era begins

Aston Villa went under new ownership early on in the 2006-2007 season as Doug Ellis sold the club to American businessman Randy Lerner. Lerner was ambitious to start with and wanted to see his new investment pay off. There was also a new manager as Martin O’Neill returned to the Premier League after a six-year absence. It was always going to take time for the new partnership to bear fruition so although an 11th place finish sounds unremarkable, it was the first steps towards three seasons of upcoming excitement for the Villa supporters.

Squad: Thomas Sorensen, Mark Delaney, Jlloyd Samuel, Olof Mellberg, Martin Laursen, Wilfred Bouma, Aaron Hughes, Liam Ridgewell, Gary Cahill, Phil Bardsley, Didier Agathe (Left in January 2007), Gavin McCann, Steven Davis, Gareth Barry, Craig Gardner, Peter Whittingham (Left in January 2007), Isaiah Osbourne, Stiliyan Petrov, Ashley Young, John Carew, Gabby Agbonlahor, Chris Sutton, Luke Moore, Milan Baros (Left in January 2007), Juan Pablo Angel (Left in April 2007)

Staying unbeaten

Having finished a disappointing 16th in 2005-2006, there was a change in the managerial hotseat at Aston Villa. Out went David O’Leary and in came Martin O’Neill, back in management after a 12-month sabbatical. O’Neill knew the area well, having steered Leicester City to two League Cup triumphs in four seasons between 1997 and 2000.

There were no initial summer arrivals in regards to new players but that was because Villa were heading for a takeover. American businessman Randy Lerner, who owned NFL franchise Cleveland Browns completed his protracted purchase of the club towards the end of August. He took 60% of the club’s shares and succeeded Doug Ellis as owner. There was enough time for Lerner to immediately allow O’Neill the opportunity to sign his former captain at Celtic, Stiliyan Petrov on August transfer deadline day for £6.5 million.

With the limited player recruitment options and having flirted with relegation in the previous campaign, there were some pundits who were tipping Villa for the drop but that didn’t look likely after a lengthy unbeaten start to the season. In fact, it wasn’t until the 10th game of the Premier League campaign until they tasted defeat when Liverpool FC beat the Villans 3-1 at Anfield.

On the opening day, Olof Mellberg had the honour of scoring the first-ever competitive goal at Arsenal’s new home, The Emirates Stadium as Villa claimed an excellent point. The first win of O’Neill’s reign came a few days later when they recovered from a goal down to beat newly-promoted Reading 2-1. Gareth Barry scored the winner in a season where he was one of the team’s best players.

Aston Villa also claimed a 1-1 draw at champions Chelsea through a first half equaliser by Gabby Agbonlahor and Barry came to the rescue in another 1-1 draw, this time at home to Tottenham Hotspur. He scored a brilliant individual equaliser to get Juan Pablo Angel out of a deep hole. The Colombian forward had missed a penalty and scored an own goal! He would leave the club before the season ended.

TABLE ON 28th October 2006

POS TABLE P W D L F A GD PTS
3 Bolton Wanderers 10 6 2 2 10 8 +2 20
4 Portsmouth 10 6 1 3 16 6 +10 19
5 Arsenal 9 5 3 1 16 5 +11 18
6 Everton 10 4 5 1 16 9 +7 17
7 ASTON VILLA 10 3 6 1 12 9 +3 15
8 Liverpool FC 10 4 2 4 12 12 0 14

Lean winter

Aston Villa’s response to their first loss of the league season was a good one as they won their next two fixtures. Blackburn Rovers were beaten 2-0 at Villa Park and then, there was an excellent 1-0 away triumph at Everton. Chris Sutton had linked up with O’Neill again in October having been a free agent. He scored the only goal of the game at Goodison Park in what turned out to be his last-ever Premier League goal.

A lean winter followed though as an 11-game winless run saw the club plummet from the top six into 14th place. This included a four-game losing sequence which saw back-to-back reverses at home to Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United.

The 3-0 home defeat to the Red Devils was the first of three quick-fire defeats to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. They lost 3-1 at Old Trafford a month later and also saw their FA Cup hopes for the season extinguish with a last-gasp 2-1 loss at The Theatre of Dreams in the third round.

However, fresh investment was coming for the team in the January transfer window.

Carew and Young arrive

January 2007 was the first opportunity O’Neill had to invest in the squad since Lerner’s takeover of the club. First up was actually a player-exchange deal. Having preferred not to use Milan Baros as a central striker in his first six months at the club, O’Neill allowed Baros to leave for Lyon in a swap deal which saw John Carew arrive at Villa Park.

A day after Carew’s arrival, Aston Villa paid Watford an initial £8 million, potentially rising to £9.65 million in add-ons to sign young English winger Ashley Young. Young had impressed greatly for the Hornets in the first half of the season and had been courted by Villa for a few weeks before his arrival into the Second City.

Shaun Maloney also arrived for a cheaper fee of £1 million, becoming the fourth player who used to work with O’Neill at Celtic to follow him to England alongside Petrov, Sutton and defender Didier Agathe.

Both Carew and Young made goalscoring impacts early on in their careers at their new club. Young scored first but his effort came in a 3-1 defeat away at Newcastle United. Carew’s goal was the only one of the contest to steer Villa to a vital 1-0 home success over struggling West Ham United.

Finishing with a flourish

Going into April, there was still an outside danger that Aston Villa could be dragged into the relegation battle because they weren’t winning many matches. However, they were proving to be difficult to beat. Only Reading and Arsenal had defeated Villa since early February.

Any lingering doubts were ended by an excellent performance at Ewood Park to complete a league double over Blackburn Rovers. A 2-1 away victory saw Patrik Berger score a rare goal after a nightmare season which had seen him struggle with injury and even have a spell out on-loan at Championship club Stoke City.

The win at Blackburn began an excellent sequence to finish the season as Villa ended with a flourish. A nine-game unbeaten run saw them finish top of the bottom half in 11th position. Among the wins were two more away successes at Middlesbrough and Manchester City and a 3-0 home win against Sheffield United – arguably the best performance of the entire season from the team.

Aston Villa ended with 50 points and drew 17 of their 38 league matches – the most of any side in the 2006-2007 campaign. It had been a solid first season in the dugout for O’Neill and the foundations were in place for even better results to come in the coming seasons.

FINAL 2006-2007 TABLE – 8th to 13th

POS TABLE P W D L F A GD PTS
8 Reading 38 16 7 15 52 47 +5 55
9 Portsmouth 38 14 12 12 45 42 +3 54
10 Blackburn Rovers 38 15 7 16 52 54 -2 52
11 ASTON VILLA 38 11 17 10 43 41 +2 50
12 Middlesbrough 38 12 10 16 44 49 -5 46
13 Newcastle United 38 11 10 17 38 47 -9 43

Premier League Files: Olof Mellberg

Premier League Career: Aston Villa (2001-2008)

Olof Mellberg was a leader and a strong part of the Aston Villa Premier League sides in the first decade of the 21st century. A strong and committed defender, few got the better of Mellberg in aerial challenges during his seven-season stay in the Premier League. He had a lengthy spell as skipper of the Villans during David O’Leary’s reign as manager and also was a figurehead for his country, winning 117 caps for Sweden.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that Mellberg started to focus full-time on football. Growing up, he preferred tennis and had dreams of becoming the next Swedish sensation at Wimbledon rather than the World Cup. It came in a period where Bjorn Borg and Stefan Edberg enjoyed Grand Slam success for the Swedish nation.

After playing for his local side Gullspång, he had spells in the Swedish Premiership with Degerfors IF and AIK Solna, winning the championship with the latter in 1998. His first move on foreign shores was to Spain, becoming a pivotal figure at the heart of the backline for Racing Santander. After a slightly rocky beginning to his time there, Olof settled down and his promise saw him linked with higher-profile Spanish clubs, including Barcelona and Valencia.

However, it was Aston Villa who agreed a fee with Racing in the region of £5 million in the summer of 2001. Mellberg started 32 of the club’s 38 Premier League fixtures in 2001-2002 and started a relationship that means he is still considered as one of Aston Villa’s finest Premier League players. There were difficult moments. In September 2002, it was Mellberg’s throw-in back to goalkeeper Peter Enckleman which was horrendously miscontrolled by the Finn and ended up in the back of the net in the first-ever Premier League Second City Derby.

David O’Leary became Villa manager in the summer of 2003 and actually left Mellberg out of his team to play Portsmouth in his first fixture as boss. There was speculation that he would leave following this omission but Villa lost that day at Fratton Park and Mellberg was quickly recalled in his usual centre-back role. O’Leary would go on to make him captain and it was a role Mellberg held until his departure in 2006. During that time, the Midlands club finished sixth in the Premier League and reached the League Cup semi-finals.

Martin O’Neill arrived as O’Leary’s replacement and Mellberg felt it was the right time to relinquish the captaincy to local lad, Gareth Barry. In August 2006, Aston Villa were the first-ever visitors to Arsenal’s new ground and Mellberg’s second half header meant he became the first player to score in a competitive fixture at The Emirates Stadium.

At the start of the 2007-2008 season, O’Neill signed Zat Knight from Fulham and elected to play him alongside Martin Laursen at centre-back. Mellberg moved into a more unfamiliar right-back role. He was the consummate professional and did the job required with the minimum of fuss. However, with his contract running down and now, not playing in his most common role, Olof elected not to extend his contract.

In January 2008, he signed a pre-contract agreement with Juventus. On his final game for the club against West Ham United, Mellberg made a brilliant gesture by buying a shirt with his name and number on the back with the message ‘Thanks 4 Your Support’ for every fan who attended the fixture at Upton Park. This went down as a highly-thoughtful and appreciated gesture from a player who always gave his maximum to the cause for the Villans.

After his Premier League life, Mellberg spent one season with Juventus before joining Olympiacos in June 2009. He won two league championships in Greece and became one of the most well-known and respected players in Greece due to his high professionalism values. After helping Villarreal regain their top-flight status in Spain in 2012-2013, he spent one final season back in Scandinavia playing for FC Copenhagen before hanging up his boots. He has also enjoyed a spell in his homeland as a manager too, guiding Brommapojkarna to back-to-back promotions before resigning in October 2017.

On the international stage, Mellberg played at two World Cup finals and four European Championship tournaments. He skippered his country to the round-of-16 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and scored twice in the EURO 2012 group stage game against England, although the Three Lions recovered from a 2-1 deficit to win the game 3-2.

A passionate player who was a fans favourite with all of his clubs, Olof Mellberg is widely considered as one of the best Scandinavian players to have figured in the Premier League.

Premier League Files: Milan Baros

Premier League Career: Liverpool FC (2002-2005), Aston Villa (2005-2007), Portsmouth (2008)

Milan Baros might be 37-years-old but he is still plying his trade in the Czech League for Banik Ostrava. He finished as top scorer at the 2004 European Championships with five goals and won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool FC a year later. His Premier League career though was a mixed bag with injury playing his part. Baros also wasn’t the strongest when it came to one-on-one situations with the opposing goalkeeper.

Baros’ career has gone full circle as he made his debut in the Czech League 21 years ago for Banik Ostrava. He scored 23 league goals in 76 appearances during his first spell, winning the Talent of the Year award at the Czech Footballer of the Year awards in 2000.

Liverpool FC took note and signed him in 2002 for £3.2 million. Fighting Emile Heskey and El-Hadji Diouf for a regular spot as Michael Owen’s strike partner, Baros’ first full season was considered a success, scoring 12 times. This included an electrifying debut away at Bolton Wanderers in September 2002 where Milan scored twice. He also won his first piece of major silverware, the League Cup in 2003 against Manchester United, arriving as a second half substitute.

In September 2003, Baros sustained a bad injury in the opening exchanges of a clash with Blackburn Rovers. He broke his ankle and was ruled out of action for over five months. This meant first-team football was limited and restricted him to just two league goals that season. So, no-one could have forecasted the amazing summer Baros was about to experience with his country at the European Championships.

He scored in all three group games and twice in the quarter-final victory over Denmark. The Czech Republic had a gifted team with the likes of Pavel Nedved, Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech among their stars. Considered favourites for the competition after the early exits of Italy, Spain and Germany, the Czechs were beaten on the ‘Silver Goal’ by surprise packages Greece in the semi-final. Baros himself didn’t complete the match. He was injured in the first half. It was the closest he would get to major international honours. He played at both the 2006 World Cup and 2008 European Championships but both competitions ended in group stage exits. Baros retired from international duty in 2012, having scored 41 times in 93 appearances. Only his long-time strike partner Jan Koller has scored more international goals for the Czech Republic.

With Owen and Heskey sold in the summer of 2004, Baros became Liverpool FC’s senior striker in Rafa Benitez’s first season at the helm. He scored 13 times in all competitions but couldn’t replicate the form he’d shown throughout the summer of 2004 in Portugal. He did score a Premier League hat-trick though in November 2004 in a narrow 3-2 home win over Crystal Palace, although two of these goals were penalties. The arrival of Fernando Morientes in January 2005 gave Baros some competition for a regular striking berth in the second half of the season and this left him as a frustrated substitute in the League Cup final. However, with Morientes cup-tied, Baros did start the 2005 UEFA Champions League final and played 85 minutes of the historic night in Istanbul which saw Liverpool regain the European Cup in the most unbelievable manner. It was reported that during the team’s celebration, Baros actually dropped the trophy, leaving a dent in it! It was almost his final act as an LFC player.

Lyon expressed an interest in the summer of 2005 to sign him but Baros turned the move down and after two substitute appearances at the start of 2005-2006, Milan left Anfield behind and joined Aston Villa for £6.5 million. Just 10 minutes into his league debut for the Villans, he scored what turned out to be the only goal of the game against Blackburn Rovers. He also scored twice in the 4-0 triumph at home to Everton on Boxing Day and made himself a bigger favourite with the supporters with another crucial double in April 2006 to help Villa defeat neighbours Birmingham City 3-1. That win effectively guaranteed the club’s Premier League status for another season. He scored 12 goals in his debut campaign in the Midlands but some felt his performances were indifferent considering the fee that had been sanctioned for his services.

Martin O’Neill took over in the summer of 2006 and preferred other striking options. Baros featured 17 times but mainly from the bench with his only goal coming in a 2-2 draw at Sheffield United in December 2006. He left in January 2007 and ultimately signed for Lyon, linking up again with Gerard Houllier, who had brought him into English football five years earlier. This was part of a swap deal that saw John Carew head to Aston Villa. Lyon won the French title that season but Houllier left in the close season and Baros didn’t get on with his replacement, Alain Perrin, featuring just six times under his management.

He returned to the English top-flight in January 2008, joining Portsmouth on-loan until the end of the season. He was part of the Pompey squad that won the 2008 FA Cup, setting up Kanu for his matchwinning strike in the semi-finals against West Bromwich Albion. However, he failed to score in his 16 appearances for the club and was absent from the team parade with the trophy. He left at the end of the season and ultimately, moved to Turkish champions Galatasaray in August 2008.

He claimed his second major league title in 2012 with the Turkish side and finished top scorer in the division in his first season with the club, netting 20 times including a hat-trick against fierce rivals Besiktas. Since 2012, Milan has moved about constantly in his homeland, spending two other spells with Banik Ostrava along with one campaign each at Mlada Boleslav and Slovan Liberec but never repeating the serial goalscoring form he demonstrated at Galatasaray or for his country. He did spend one further season in Turkey with Antalyaspor but disappointed with two goals in just 13 appearances.

Baros has four goals this season with Banik sitting in the top four in the table and set to take part in the Championship Group which decides the European positions at the end of the season for the Czech Republic.

Memorable Matches: Arsenal 3-2 Aston Villa (December 2001)

Goalscorers: Paul Merson 21, Steve Stone 34, Sylvain Wiltord 46, Thierry Henry 72, 90

Teams:

Arsenal: Stuart Taylor, Lauren, Sol Campbell, Matthew Upson (Martin Keown 45), Ashley Cole, Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour, Freddie Ljungberg (Sylvain Wiltord 45), Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp (Kanu 68), Thierry Henry

Aston Villa: Peter Enckelman, Alan Wright, Olof Mellberg, Jlloyd Samuel, Steve Staunton, Gareth Barry (Darius Vassell 78), George Boateng, Lee Hendrie, Paul Merson, Steve Stone, Dion Dublin

Referee: Alan Wiley, Attendance: 38,074

With Manchester United having already lost six times in the 2001-2002 Premier League campaign by early December, the race for the title was wide open. Arsenal were one of the main contenders whilst Aston Villa had topped the table in late October, although they had slipped off the pace in recent weeks.

The sides met at Highbury and produced a contest which was a game of two halves. In the opening 45 minutes, the Villans put in a clinical, decisive counter-attacking display which meant they went into the dressing rooms 2-0 ahead at half-time. After 21 minutes, they took the lead through a former Arsenal title winner.

Peter Enckelman’s long goal-kick was flicked on by Dion Dublin who had the measure of Sol Campbell. Campbell’s centre-back partner Matthew Upson was caught out of position and Paul Merson held him off before chipping the onrushing Stuart Taylor to give John Gregory’s side a deserved lead.

11 minutes before half-time, their lead had been doubled. Veteran Steve Staunton launched a deep free-kick into the penalty box and it caused plenty of confusion in the Arsenal backline. Lauren and Freddie Ljungberg failed to clear their lines, allowing Alan Wright to drive the ball back into the danger zone. Campbell produced a vital block to deny Lee Hendrie but the ball fell neatly into the path of Steve Stone and the midfielder took the opportunity with panache. Arsene Wenger needed to make some tactical adjustments to change the course of the match.

The struggling Upson was replaced by Martin Keown at half-time and Sylvain Wiltord was introduced for Ljungberg. Just a minute after his half-time introduction, Wiltord had halved Villa’s advantage with virtually his first touch of the contest. From Ray Parlour’s cross, a deflection off a Villa defender allowed the Frenchman to score with a left-footed volley.

Arsenal were now bossing proceedings and as the second half wore on, Villa started to drop deeper and deeper. With 18 minutes left, the equaliser arrived. Jlloyd Samuel was robbed of possession by Patrick Vieira and Vieira picked out Thierry Henry who kept his composure to equalise.

The pressure continued and Wiltord was denied a second goal by an offside flag but as stoppage-time approached, the winning goal finally arrived for the Gunners. Enckelman’s sloppy goal-kick gave the hosts one final opportunity. Robert Pires was stronger in a 50:50 challenge against a tentative George Boateng and he played Henry through. He made no mistake and scored his 21st goal of the season in all competitions to complete the stirring second half comeback.

The result took Arsenal into second place in the table and they eventually ended up winning the title by seven points – losing just one more Premier League match between this game and the end of the campaign. Gregory left Aston Villa six weeks later and they faded away to eighth in the final table.

Premier League Rewind: 22nd-24th August 1998

Results: Charlton Athletic 5-0 Southampton, Chelsea 1-1 Newcastle United, Derby County 0-0 Wimbledon, Leicester City 2-0 Everton, Liverpool FC 0-0 Arsenal, Nottingham Forest 1-0 Coventry City, Tottenham Hotspur 0-3 Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham United 0-0 Manchester United, Aston Villa 3-1 Middlesbrough, Leeds United 1-0 Blackburn Rovers

There seemed to a post-attacking hangover after the 1998 World Cup finals in France and defences were most definitely on-top in the first month of the 1998-1999 season. On the second weekend of the campaign, there were three more goalless draws to add to the three on the opening day and just 18 goals across the 10 fixtures.

The main story was Charlton Athletic’s first game in the Premier League at The Valley and it turned out to be a memorable afternoon the Addicks supporters would never forget. Southampton were ripped apart in the Saturday afternoon sunshine in the capital. John Robinson had the honour of scoring Charlton’s first goal in the top-flight since promotion and play-off hero Clive Mendonca helped himself to a second half hat-trick. The Saints caved in and finished with midfielder David Howells in-goal after regular goalkeeper Paul Jones was sent off for a professional foul. Charlton won 5-0 and ended the weekend top of the Premier League table.

Two days after his big money transfer from Aston Villa to Manchester United, Dwight Yorke made his Red Devils debut at Upton Park as Alex Ferguson’s side continued their unspectacular start to the season with a turgid performance in a goalless draw with the Hammers. David Beckham made his first trip to a visiting ground since his World Cup nightmare and he was viciously booed throughout the afternoon by the West Ham faithful who hadn’t forgiven him for his antics in St-Etienne back in June.

Aston Villa boss John Gregory was furious Yorke had left his club and when his striker demanded to leave, he famously said “if he’d had a gun at the time, I think I would have shot him!” The Villans didn’t seem to miss him at home to newly-promoted Middlesbrough. Julian Joachim scored the pick of the goals in the home side’s impressive 3-1 victory infront of the Super Sunday cameras.

The standard and competitiveness of the Premier League was drawn out by the fact that there were no 100% records left after just two rounds of fixtures. Only two teams were pointless so far; Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs’ alarming 3-0 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday with goals from Peter Atherton, Paolo Di Canio and Andy Hinchcliffe would turn out to be Christian Gross’ last home fixture as manager of the club. He was sacked in early September. The win for the Owls was the first in-charge for Danny Wilson after he left relegated Barnsley in the summer to take charge of a club he represented in his playing days.

The first manager to leave his post in the season was Kenny Dalglish. Although Newcastle recorded an excellent 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge against a new-look Chelsea, Dalglish resigned a few days later and would be replaced by ex-Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit.

The weekend ended with Leeds United edging out Blackburn Rovers 1-0 on Monday Night Football. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored the only goal of the game after 18 minutes. It was the first of his 18 Premier League goals in the season, as he shared the Golden Boot with Yorke and Liverpool FC’s Michael Owen. 

What else happened in August 1998?

  • Just four months after The Good Friday agreement, trouble returns to Northern Ireland when a car bomb explodes at Omagh, planted by a splinter group who opposed the agreement. 29 people are killed and 220 are injured in the worst terrorist atrocity in Northern Ireland.
  • The United States embassy buildings are bombed in Tanzania and Kenya, killing 224 people and injuring over 4500. They are immediately linked to al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden.
  • American President Bill Clinton admits in a televised address to the country that he “misled people” about his sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky.
  • The world’s first bionic arm, the Edinburgh Modular Arm System is fitted.
  • Richard Dunn, the former CEO of Thames Television dies aged 55. He was in-charge of Thames when they controversially lost the London license to serve ITV in the 1991 Franchise Awards.
  • Damon Hill wins the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa – the first-ever victory for the Jordan Formula One team, ran by Irish team owner Eddie Jordan. It is Hill’s 22nd and final victory in the sport.
  • The Netherlands is selected as the venue for the trial of the two Libyan men charged with the Lockerbie bombing of December 1988.

 

 

Great Goals: Matthew Lowton – Stoke City vs. ASTON VILLA (April 2013)

Aston Villa looked to be in serious relegation danger going into the penultimate month of the 2012-2013 season. They needed to start winning fast. What their fans probably didn’t expect was a goal of a lifetime strike from a rookie right-back in his debut top-flight campaign.

Matthew Lowton had quietly gone about his business throughout the season but he came into the conscience of Villa supporters with this stunning goal away at The Britannia Stadium against Stoke City. From a Villa corner, two Stoke players, Geoff Cameron and Charlie Adam initially cleared the ball away from danger. When Lowton controlled the ball on his chest, there didn’t seem to be much threat for Asmir Begovic and his defenders.

Having controlled the ball beautifully, Lowton’s second touch was inch-perfect as his dipping volley looped over Begovic and into the net. It was a fitting goal to win an important match and was the spearhead towards an impressive run that secured safety for Paul Lambert’s side.

Premier League Files: Paul Merson

Premier League Career: Arsenal (1992-1997), Middlesbrough (1998), Aston Villa (1998-2002)

Paul Merson’s career was chequered to say the least. On-the-pitch, he enjoyed immense success with Arsenal, winning two First Division titles before the Premier League was formed. He also was a vital part in the promotions to the top-flight with Middlesbrough in 1998 and Portsmouth in 2003. After an unsuccessful attempt at management, Merson has become one of the regular pundits on Gillette Soccer Saturday.

Off-the-pitch, Merson has had to face up to his demons. He admitted in 1994 to his battle against drinking, gambling and drugs which led to a rehabilitation campaign and time away from the game he cherishes the most.

It was at his first club, Arsenal where Merson enjoyed the most success. He spent 11 years with the club, joining as an apprentice in 1984 and making his first-team debut against Manchester City in November 1986. His breakthrough season came in 1988-1989, when Arsenal famously pinched the title from Liverpool FC’s grasp in the last moments of the campaign at Anfield. Paul was voted PFA Young Player of the Year, scoring 10 times in the Gunners’ triumphant campaign. He had now established himself on the right wing for George Graham and an England international call-up wasn’t far away.

That honour didn’t arrive until Graham Taylor succeeded Sir Bobby Robson as England boss. Merson made his international debut in 1991, playing in a friendly against Germany. In total, he won 21 caps for his country, featuring and scoring in the penalty shootout defeat to Argentina at the 1998 World Cup finals. He could have won more caps for his country had it not been for his drinking problems which meant Terry Venables couldn’t trust on picking him during his battle off-the-field.

In 1991, Merson won his second league championship and enjoyed his best goalscoring season too, finding the back of the net 13 times. Arsenal became a cup specialist side in the early Premier League Years and Paul played a huge contribution in their domestic cup double of 1993, scoring in the League Cup final victory over Sheffield Wednesday. However, his dark side away from football was revealed in public in November 1994.

He revealed he had been battling addictions to alcohol, gambling and cocaine and was immediately placed into rehab. Two months later, he made a tearful return to public life, breaking down in a press conference organised by the FA. When he composed himself, he admitted: “My life was going nowhere. I now have a choice – I either go back to the booze, the gambling and the drugs or I go the other way.”

Following treatment, he returned to training and was back in first-team action for Arsenal in February 1995. It is a battle Paul has had to fight constantly for the past two decades. When at Portsmouth, his gambling problems relapsed which led to a spell in the Sporting Chance clinic, created by his former Arsenal teammate Tony Adams.

In the summer of 1997, Merson was surprisingly sold from Arsenal to Middlesbrough, who had just been relegated from the top-flight. Arsene Wenger had offered the midfielder a new two-year contract but preferring longer-term security and a better wage package, he decided to drop down a division and help Boro make an instant return to the Premier League. He was nicknamed “The Magic Man” by supporters as the Teesiders earned promotion, ending second to Nottingham Forest in the final standings.

After three games of Middlesbrough’s return to the Premier League spotlight, he claimed homesickness was the reason for a return to the south of the country. With money to spend after the departure of Dwight Yorke to Manchester United, John Gregory bought Merson to Aston Villa in September 1998. He scored in his opening two home matches for the club and played a key role in Villa’s run to the FA Cup final in 2000 which they ended up losing 1-0 to Chelsea. In total, he made 101 Premier League appearances for the Villans, scoring 18 times. This was to be his final spell in the Premier League.

After playing an instrumental role in Portsmouth’s return to the top-flight in the summer of 2003, he elected to move to Walsall so he could be closer to his family. When Colin Lee was sacked in February 2004, Merson was thrown into the managerial spotlight but couldn’t prevent the club being relegated from Division One. After failing to launch a sustained promotion bid in League One, he was sacked in February 2006 and after two part-time matches for Tamworth, announced his retirement from playing a month later.

Since his retirement, Paul has moved into media, working for Sky Sports, co-hosting The Fantasy Football Club and working on Gillette Soccer Saturday. He also writes a regular column for The Daily Star newspaper.

The Clubs: Aston Villa

All-Time Premier League Record

Played Won Drew Lost Scored Conceded Goal Difference Points No of Seasons
924 316 275 333 1117 1186 -69 1223 24

 

Most Premier League Appearances

Player Appearances Total
Gareth Barry 365
Gabriel Agbonlahor 322
Alan Wright 260
Lee Hendrie 251
Steve Staunton 245
Ian Taylor 234
Olof Mellberg 232
Ugo Ehiogu 229
Gareth Southgate 190
Stiliyan Petrov 185

 

Most Premier League Goals

Player Goals Total
Gabriel Agbonlahor 73
Dwight Yorke 60
Dion Dublin 48
Juan Pablo Angel 44
Christian Benteke 42
Gareth Barry 41
Julian Joachim 39
Dean Saunders 38
John Carew 37
Darius Vassell 35

 

Biggest Premier League Victories

Match Date Season
Aston Villa 7-1 Wimbledon 11th February 1995 1994-1995
Derby County 0-6 Aston Villa 12th April 2008 2007-2008
Aston Villa 6-1 Sunderland 29th April 2013 2012-2013
Aston Villa 5-0 Swindon Town 12th February 1994 1993-1994
Aston Villa 5-0 Wimbledon 22nd December 1996 1996-1997
Leicester City 0-5 Aston Villa 31st January 2004 2003-2004
Aston Villa 5-1 Middlesbrough 17th January 1993 1992-1993
Aston Villa 5-1 Birmingham City 20th April 2008 2007-2008
Aston Villa 5-1 Bolton Wanderers 7th November 2009 2009-2010
Aston Villa 4-0 Watford 5th February 2000 1999-2000

 

Worst Premier League Defeats

Match Date Season
Chelsea 8-0 Aston Villa 23rd December 2012 2012-2013
Chelsea 7-1 Aston Villa 27th March 2010 2009-2010
Newcastle United 6-0 Aston Villa 22nd August 2010 2010-2011
Aston Villa 0-6 Liverpool FC 14th February 2016 2015-2016
Southampton 6-1 Aston Villa 16th May 2015 2014-2015
Blackburn Rovers 5-0 Aston Villa 17th January 1998 1997-1998
Arsenal 5-0 Aston Villa 1st April 2006 2005-2006
Liverpool FC 5-0 Aston Villa 22nd March 2009 2008-2009
Manchester City 5-0 Aston Villa 17th November 2012 2012-2013
Arsenal 5-0 Aston Villa 1st February 2015 2014-2015

 

Managers

Manager No of Seasons managed Left the Club
Ron Atkinson 3 10th November 1994
Brian Little 4 24th February 1998
John Gregory 5 23rd January 2002
Graham Taylor 2 30th June 2003
David O’Leary 3 20th July 2006
Martin O’Neill 4 9th August 2010
Gerard Houllier 1 1st June 2011
Alex McLeish 1 14th May 2012
Paul Lambert 3 11th February 2015
Tim Sherwood 2 25th October 2015
Remi Garde 1 29th March 2016
Eric Black 1 3rd June 2016

 

Highest Home Attendances

Match Date Attendance Figure Season
Aston Villa 2-0 Derby County 3rd November 2007 47,938 2007-2008
Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool FC 7th May 1994 45,347 1993-1994
Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool FC 29th December 2009 42,788 2009-2010
Aston Villa 1-1 Manchester United 10th February 2010 42,788 2009-2010
Aston Villa 1-0 Birmingham City 25th April 2010 42,788 2009-2010
Aston Villa 1-0 Liverpool FC 22nd May 2011 42,785 2010-2011
Aston Villa 0-3 Manchester United 15th December 2013 42,682 2013-2014
Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool FC 11th August 2007 42,640 2007-2008
Aston Villa 1-4 Manchester United 20th October 2007 42,640 2007-2008
Aston Villa 4-1 Newcastle United 9th February 2008 42,640 2007-2008

 

Intro

Aston Villa were a Premier League ever-present until their relegation from the Premier League in 2016. Runners-up in the very first season, the Villans remain one of the leading clubs in English football. They enjoyed sustained top-six campaigns under the likes of Brian Little in the mid-1990s and throughout Martin O’Neill’s exciting reign. However, Randy Lerner’s determination to tighten the purse led to three managers, just three wins, mass protests inside Villa Park and the demise in 2015-2016 that was pretty sorry to witness. Villa are now in their third season in the Championship and desperate to return to the Premier League party, with former title-winning skipper John Terry now on the coaching staff as assistant manager to former Brentford boss, Dean Smith.

 

1992-1993

After only drawing their first three Premier League matches, manager Ron Atkinson added to his striking reinforcements with the acquisition of Dean Saunders from Liverpool FC. It was a great bit of business. Saunders struck up a great partnership with Dalian Atkinson, whose strike away at Wimbledon in October won the BBC Match of the Day Goal of the Season.

For much of the season, Villa were locked in a tight battle for the inaugural Premier League title along with Manchester United and Norwich City. Paul McGrath’s tremendous performances saw him crowned as the PFA Players’ Player of the Year. However, a 3-0 defeat at Ewood Park to Blackburn Rovers in mid-April handed the title initiative to Manchester United. A home loss to Oldham Athletic at the start of May finished off Villa’s title bid and they eventually finished 10 points shy of top spot. Nevertheless, their attractive brand of football had won them new fans and made them one of the neutral supporters’ favourite in this new era of English football.

 

1993-1994

Aston Villa’s second Premier League campaign was unremarkable. A modest 10th place finish was a disappointment after the previous season’s near-miss with the title. However, there was to be a silver lining to the campaign. In March, they defeated Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley Stadium to win the League Cup – therefore denying the Red Devils a shot at a unique domestic treble.

 

1994-1995

In a bid to improve league fortunes, Ron Atkinson signed John Fashanu in the summer from Wimbledon and with Saunders, Dalian Atkinson and Dwight Yorke all still around – goals looked set to be a guarantee. However, the squad was starting to age and a cataclysmic run of form saw Villa slip to 20th by mid-November. They threw away a match at Selhurst Park against Wimbledon, losing 4-3 after going 3-1 infront. Despite their dire position and having experienced a nine-game winless run, many were surprised to see Atkinson sacked by the ruthless Doug Ellis.

Ellis started his pursuit of former player Brian Little, who resigned from his position as Leicester City manager to force through his move into the Villa Park dugout. He won Manager of the Month honours in January and spearheaded the club to their biggest-ever Premier League victory with a 7-1 demolition of Wimbledon in mid-February. However, another desperate run saw them slip dangerously close to the bottom four and survival was only effectively secured by a Yorke double in their final home match of the season against Liverpool FC. 18th place was not where anyone expected the Villans to finish after a nightmare league season.

 

1995-1996

Brian Little’s first summer saw him bring in Mark Draper, Gareth Southgate and Savo Milosevic and Villa’s fortunes drastically improved. A 3-1 opening day victory over Manchester United set the tone for an encouraging campaign that saw the Villans rarely outside the top six. They even harboured outside hopes of the championship with an unbeaten home record until the end of January when Liverpool FC defeated them 2-0. Nevertheless, Villa finished an excellent fourth and won the League Cup for the second time in three years, overpowering Leeds United 3-0 in the final.

 

1996-1997

Aston Vila dropped from fourth to fifth in the table in 1996-1997 but it was another consistent and impressive season from Brian Little’s men. They destroyed Wimbledon’s 20+ match unbeaten run with a 5-0 trouncing of the Dons in December and also beat Liverpool FC at home 1-0. They secured qualification for the UEFA Cup on the final day of the season with a narrow success over Southampton.

 

1997-1998

The arrival of Stan Collymore for just over £7 million days after the previous season concluded suggested great hopes for Aston Villa in 1997-1998 but losing their first four matches quickly put out those high expectations. Brian Little resigned towards the end of February after a defeat at Wimbledon that left Villa in a disappointing 14th position in the table. His former coach, John Gregory, returned to the club and they recovered brilliantly. Despite disappointing home defeats to the relegated duo of Barnsley and Bolton Wanderers, Villa’s rapid rise to seventh place at the season’s end meant another season of European football for the supporters to look forward to.

 

1998-1999

Gregory was unhappy with Dwight Yorke after the Villans’ superstar forced through a transfer to Manchester United four days into the season. Nevertheless, he spent the Yorke money wisely on the likes of Paul Merson, Steve Watson and in November, Dion Dublin from Midlands’ rivals, Coventry City. Villa set a club-record run of 12 games unbeaten at the start of the season and in December, produced one of the comebacks of the season to defeat champions Arsenal 3-2, having trailed 2-0 at half-time.

They topped the table on Christmas Day and were in a four-way scrap for the title going into the New Year alongside Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. However, Stan Collymore was sidelined for much of the second half of the season because of stress, the goals dried up for Merson and Dublin and an FA Cup defeat at home to First Division Fulham sparked a dramatic collapse in form. Aston Villa won just three league games in the second half of the campaign and faded badly to sixth position, missing out on the UEFA Intertoto Cup position to West Ham United in the process. It was a campaign that promised so much but ultimately, delivered so little.

 

1999-2000

John Gregory’s second full season in the dugout began poorly as the lack of confidence around the team remained. Dublin sustained a nasty neck injury in December that kept him out of action for several months and away form especially was a major concern. They improved after Christmas to finish in sixth position and also reached the FA Cup final, losing 1-0 to Chelsea in the final-ever FA Cup event to be played underneath Wembley’ famed ‘Twin Towers.’

 

2000-2001

Aston Villa’s 2000-2001 campaign was unremarkable to say the least. They finished in eighth place and made little impact on the season’s proceedings. 15 draws ensured they wouldn’t finish any higher in the table whilst main summer signing Luc Nilis suffered a serious injury playing against Ipswich Town in September that cost the Belgian his playing career.

 

2001-2002

Moroccan Internationals Mustapha Hadji and Hassan Kachloul were added to the squad in pre-season and Peter Schmeichel also returned to the Premier League after his spell in Portugal with Sporting Lisbon. Villa made a bright start and Schmeichel became the first-ever goalkeeper to score in the Premier League with his late effort in defeat at Everton. They went top of the table at the end of October but followed this high with a run of just one win in 11 matches.

By now, John Gregory had grown tired of his tempestuous relationship with Doug Ellis and resigned in late January, freeing himself up to take up the vacancy at former club Derby County. 12 years after guiding the club to a second-place finish in the old First Division, Graham Taylor returned to have another go at working with Ellis. He oversaw two late season victories over Southampton and Chelsea to ensure another eighth place finish in the table and therefore, a seventh successive campaign inside the Premier League’s top 10.

 

2002-2003

One goal only and three defeats in the opening four matches set the tone for a disappointing 2002-2003 season for Graham Taylor and Aston Villa. There were two damaging defeats to Second City rivals Birmingham City, who finished above them in the table for good measure. The second defeat at Villa Park saw a goalkeeping error and two daft red cards for Dion Dublin and Joey Gudjonsson. The usually restrained Taylor refused to take any questions afterwards from the media after this debacle.

Survival was only guaranteed on the penultimate weekend of the season and the 16th place finish that followed was enough for Ellis to dismiss Taylor at the end of the campaign.

 

2003-2004

After a season on the sidelines, David O’Leary returned to management and guided Aston Villa back into the Premier League’s top six. He made a slow start, winning just two of his first 13 league games which left the club in the bottom three in early December after a 4-0 drubbing at Old Trafford to Manchester United. Form improved dramatically after that result, losing just two of their next nine games to get the club into the European reckoning. O’Leary’s side reached the semi-finals of the League Cup and finished just five points shy of the UEFA Champions League qualification places – although the cup heroics of Middlesbrough and Millwall meant this was one of the rare seasons where sixth place wasn’t enough to secure European football for the following season.

 

2004-2005

There were few highs in 2004-2005 for Aston Villa supporters as the team failed to build on the previous season’s sixth place finish. Villa dropped to 10th and lost both games again to bitter rivals Birmingham City to ensure they remained winless in six meetings against the Blues since their promotion to the top-flight.

There was a 3-0 victory at St James’ Park and a comeback victory at Southampton from 2-0 down at half-time to a 3-2 success but it was a mediocre season at best for the Villa faithful.

 

2005-2006

Milan Baros arrived from Liverpool FC in a bid to improve Aston Villa’s goalscoring potential but the Czech only showed fleeting glimpses of his quality and for much of the season, Villa lagged at the wrong end of the table. Any relegation fears were ended by a 3-1 victory over Birmingham City where Baros scored twice and youngster Gary Cahill scored his first senior goal with a spectacular overhead kick.

In total, Villa only recorded 10 league victories, although there were two 4-0 triumphs over Everton and Middlesbrough respectively. They finished a dismal 16th, and just eight points clear of danger. With Doug Ellis set to sell the club, O’Leary left his role as manager at the end of the campaign after three seasons at the helm.

 

2006-2007

Martin O’Neill was installed as the new manager in the off-season and in late August, American businessman Randy Lerner completed his takeover of the club. Villa were the last team in the Premier League to taste defeat, staying undefeated until a 3-1 loss at Liverpool FC at the end of October. An 11-match winless sequence in the winter months had some fans nervous but O’Neill was stabilising the club for a more sustained European push in the seasons to come. This was highlighted further by the January additions of John Carew and Ashley Young. They finished 11th, having drawn a staggering 17 of their 38 league matches.

 

2007-2008

Aston Villa improved five positions on their 2006-2007 finish, returning to the top six and earning UEFA Cup football for the following season. John Carew and Gabby Agbonlahor scored 24 goals between them in a dangerous attacking partnership and O’Neill’s side played some great attacking football throughout the season. This included a 6-0 victory away at hapless Derby County in April which remains the club’s biggest-ever away victory in the Premier League.

 

2008-2009

For the second successive season, Aston Villa finished in sixth position, although there was a sense of disappointment at the end of it. The Villans launched a serious challenge to Arsenal in the race for a top four position and at one point, held a seven-point advantage over the Gunners, spearheaded by a tremendous sequence of away victories which broke a long-standing club record. A 2-2 draw at home to newly-promoted Stoke City though began a calamitous run which saw them win just one of their next 10 games, puncturing their ambitions of reaching the UEFA Champions League qualifiers.

 

2009-2010

For the first time in 12 years, Aston Villa began a campaign without Gareth Barry after his summer departure to Manchester City. They didn’t miss him too much in the early part of the season despite an opening day defeat at home to Wigan Athletic. Villa won at Anfield and Old Trafford and defeated eventual champions Chelsea 2-1 in October too.

O’Neill’s side were always in the four-way tussle for a top four finish and although they amassed two more points than the previous campaign, they finished sixth again with Tottenham Hotspur taking the coveted fourth spot. James Milner’s excellent displays saw him awarded with the PFA Young Player of the Year award and there was also a return to the League Cup final after a 14-year absence. However, it ended in heartbreak with a 2-1 defeat at Wembley to Manchester United.

 

2010-2011

This was the first season where Randy Lerner started to tighten the purse strings at Aston Villa and after a disagreement over the future transfer policy of the club; Martin O’Neill abruptly resigned as manager just five days before the season got underway. Two weeks later, James Milner was sold to Manchester City.

After serving notice as technical director of the French Football Federation, Gerard Houllier took charge towards the end of September but he struggled to sustain any consistency, both in terms of results and performances. He didn’t see out the season either. Ill health meant it was his no.2 Gary McAllister who took charge of the last few games of the season. Victories over Arsenal and Liverpool FC took the club to ninth place but it was the beginning of a worrying decline for the supporters.

 

2011-2012

With Houllier being forced to step down, it was Alex McLeish who succeeded him. Having been boss of Birmingham City before taking over at Villa Park, he was not a popular choice and although he stayed unbeaten until mid-October in the Premier League, the style of football was absolutely awful. Aston Villa amassed just 38 points all season, recorded only seven victories and collected just 19 points at home which at that point, was their worst-ever home campaign in their top-flight history.

Club captain Stiliyan Petrov was diagnosed with acute leukaemia towards the end of March and after a final day defeat to Norwich City, McLeish became the third Aston Villa manager in their Premier League history to finish 16th and receive his marching orders.

 

2012-2013

Paul Lambert was the new manager at the helm for the 2012-2013 season after guiding Norwich City to a 12th place finish in his first top-flight management campaign. The Scot found the going extremely tough in his new job as Aston Villa collected just a single point from his opening three games in-charge. There was a fabulous 3-1 victory at Anfield over Liverpool FC but just a week later, Villa caved in spectacularly at Chelsea to lose 8-0.

Further embarrassment followed in January with a League Cup semi-final defeat over two legs to fourth-tier outfit Bradford City and it was only the goals of new signing Christian Benteke that just about kept Villa above the bottom three. Benteke finished with 20+ goals to become the first player in the club’s Premier League history to achieve that feat since Dwight Yorke. Aston Villa finished a rocky campaign in 15th position.

 

2013-2014

For the second season running, Aston Villa finished in 15th position and endured another stale campaign under the guidance of Paul Lambert. There were few remarkable highlights, other than a 3-1 victory on the opening weekend over Arsenal at The Emirates Stadium and an early season 3-2 triumph over eventual title winners, Manchester City. At the end of a stale season, Randy Lerner confirmed he had put the club up for sale but he would find no interested buyer ultimately to take the club off his hands.

 

2014-2015

Three wins from the club’s first four matches including a 1-0 success at Anfield hinted at potentially a better season for Aston Villa but they followed this up with a run of six successive defeats, failing to score in five of these matches. Goalscoring was a huge problem all season and after a 2-0 loss to Hull City in mid-February that saw the club slip to 19th position, Paul Lambert was sacked and replaced by Tim Sherwood.

Sherwood managed to galvanise the team and especially, Christian Benteke, who rediscovered his scoring form under his management. This included a hat-trick against Queens Park Rangers and a winning goal at White Hart Lane. There was a late season 6-1 beating at Southampton but other results ensured their safety, although they finished just one place above the drop zone. Sherwood’s impact also saw Aston Villa reach the FA Cup final, although this ended in a 4-0 defeat to holders Arsenal.

 

2015-2016

For the second season running, Aston Villa won their first match of the season away from home. Rudy Gestede’s header meant they were the party poopers at AFC Bournemouth, inflicting defeat on the Cherries on their Premier League bow. However, it would be the only win they amassed in the first half of a nightmare season. By the turn of the New Year, they were 11 points adrift of safety.

Tim Sherwood was sacked towards the end of October following a run of six consecutive defeats which began with a collapse at Leicester City, throwing away a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to the fearless Foxes. Remi Garde was drafted in as manager and stopped the rot with a gutsy goalless draw at home to Manchester City. However, the Frenchman looked completely out of his depth. This was never more evident when on Valentine Day’s 2016; they suffered their worst home defeat since 1935 after losing 6-0 at home to Liverpool FC.

Garde eventually parted ways with the club at the end of March and Villa’s final days in the Premier League were greeted with mass demonstrations, banners and protests calling for owner Randy Lerner to step down. Eric Black took charge on an interim basis until the end of the season and relegation was finally confirmed with a 1-0 loss in mid-April away at Manchester United. Villa’s final tally of three wins and just 17 points means this is the third worst campaign ever seen by a team in Premier League history.

Memorable Matches: Aston Villa 3-2 Arsenal (December 1998)

Goalscorers: Dennis Bergkamp 14, 45, Julian Joachim 62, Dion Dublin 65, 83

Teams:

Aston Villa: Michael Oakes, Ugo Ehiogu, Gareth Southgate, Steve Watson, Alan Wright, Gareth Barry (Stan Collymore 54), Lee Hendrie, Ian Taylor, Alan Thompson, Dion Dublin, Julian Joachim (Simon Grayson 86)

Arsenal: David Seaman, Steve Bould, Nelson Vivas, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour (Luis Boa Morte 89), Freddie Ljungberg (Gilles Grimandi 68), Marc Overmars, Nicolas Anelka, Dennis Bergkamp

Referee: Stephen Lodge, Attendance: 39,217

Aston Villa were flying high in the first half of the 1998-1999 season and looked like a genuine contender for the Premier League title. John Gregory’s side had only been beaten twice all campaign by the time reigning champions Arsenal visited Villa Park. Villa had just been knocked off top spot by Manchester United after their 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur 24 hours earlier and were enduring their toughest run of the season – having collected just two points from their previous four fixtures.

Back after missing four matches with a thigh problem, Dennis Bergkamp gave the champions the lead after 14 minutes. Strike partner Nicolas Anelka won an aerial challenge and Bergkamp showed his class to sprint away from Gareth Barry. The Dutchman then provided a clinical finish with a volley from distance that surprised Michael Oakes. Although the home side were enjoying more possession, it was the Gunners who had more intent in attacking situations. Right on the stroke of half-time, the visitors doubled their advantage with Anelka and Bergkamp once again working brilliantly in tandem.

The Frenchman was once again the provider, getting to the by-line unchallenged, turning and producing a crisp pass which Bergkamp dispatched in commanding fashion with an instant first-touch finish. Gregory was now going to have to give a stiff half-time team talk to his players if they were going to turn this situation around. However, the interval would last for 30 minutes after a shocking incident at half-time.

RAF parachutist Nigel Rogoff was coming into the stadium in a Santa Claus outfit when his stunt went dreadfully wrong. He hit the roof of the Trinity Road stand and plunged to the ground. Rogoff sustained bad injuries to both of his legs and his left leg would later be amputated above the knee.

Once the football resumed, the Villa faithful put aside those events to help galvanise the players back into the contest. Gregory brought Stan Collymore on for Barry 10 minutes into the second half and his presence helped the Villans back into the match. On 62 minutes, it was his flick-on that played in Lee Hendrie. Hendrie then squared the ball to Julian Joachim and he beat David Seaman with a low shot.

Three minutes later, Arsenal’s lead had vanished. Dion Dublin scored his eighth goal for the club since arriving from Coventry City a month earlier. His first attempt at a shot was blocked but when Alan Thompson’s miscue fell neatly into his path, he made no mistake as Arsenal’s protests against an offside fell on deaf ears. Sensing a winner was on the cards, Villa continued to increase the tempo and they completed the comeback seven minutes from full-time. Martin Keown missed his attempt of a clearing header and the ball dropped beautifully for Dublin to thrash a shot beyond Seaman.

Villa would spend Christmas Day on top of the table but a dire run of 10 games without a win from mid-January saw them fade to sixth in the final standings. Arsenal won the return fixture 1-0 at Highbury on the last day of the season but missed out on retaining their title by just a single point.

The Managers: David O’Leary

Premier League Clubs Managed: Leeds United (1998-2002), Aston Villa (2003-2006)

It has been seven years since David O’Leary has held down a position as a manager and over 12 years since his last Premier League job. It is rather unlikely now that a man who still holds the record for most-ever appearances for Arsenal as a player will return to the dugout.

O’Leary’s playing career saw him win two league championships with Arsenal and also play a key role in the Republic of Ireland’s run to the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals in Italy. As a manager, his best achievement was getting Leeds United to a UEFA Champions League semi-final in 2001 and equalling a successive wins record in his first season as Leeds boss, set by Don Revie’s all-conquering side of the 1970s.

An Arsenal stalwart

As a player, O’Leary played as a no-nonsense central defender and was a heartbeat of the Arsenal sides throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He made his league debut for the Londoners in 1975 and would go on to make a club-record total of 558 league appearances and 722 in total.

His first major honour as an Arsenal player came as part of the winning FA Cup squad in 1979 when they beat Manchester United in a thrilling conclusion to that final. He actually featured in three successive cup finals as the Gunners made the showpiece event in English football at the time in 1978 and 1980, losing to Ipswich Town and West Ham United respectively.

In November 1989, he surpassed George Armstrong’s all-time record of club appearances. By now, the new generation of central defenders was coming through and O’Leary was playing the back-up role to Tony Adams and Steve Bould. Nevertheless, he was still very influential in the dressing room at Highbury as Arsenal ended Merseyside’s dominance of the league championship to win the crown in 1989, beating Liverpool FC at Anfield in that unbelievable climax to the 1988-1989 season.

A second league title followed in 1991 and his last honours came with the FA Cup and League Cup double of 1993. That summer, he ended his 19-year association with the club, joining Leeds United on a free transfer. He made only 10 league appearances before an Achilles injury was sustained which he never recovered from. David announced his retirement from professional football in 1995, having not played for nearly two years.

On the international scene, O’Leary will always be remembered for one of the most important strikes of a football in the history of the Republic of Ireland. It was his decisive goal in the shootout victory over Romania in Genoa that took the Irish to the World Cup quarter-finals in 1990. It was their maiden World Cup campaign. He won 68 caps for his country, scoring just once in a European Championship qualifier against Turkey.

Getting George’s job

O’Leary’s first break arrived in September 1996 when Leeds United sacked their 1992 title-winning manager, Howard Wilkinson. Former Arsenal boss George Graham was installed as his successor and he immediately put O’Leary on his coaching staff as his assistant. O’Leary learned a lot from the master and when Graham left for the Tottenham Hotspur job in early October 1998, he had a chance of getting George’s job.

Leeds’ preferred candidate at the time was the Leicester City boss Martin O’Neill. However, he elected to stay loyal to his current employers and turned the job down. Having not managed to attract the big name, the hierarchy decided to upgrade O’Leary to the managerial role on a full-time basis. There was a lot of trust placed in him and David didn’t disappoint. He allowed the likes of Jonathan Woodgate, Harry Kewell and Alan Smith to blossom in the first-team and kept the experienced personnel of Lucas Radebe and Nigel Martyn around to help the young chargers out.

Leeds went on a stunning run of seven successive league victories in the Spring period of 1999, equalling a record set by Revie’s championship-winning sides of the 1970s. Only a goalless draw with Liverpool FC in mid-April stopped that sequence but Leeds finished an excellent fourth and qualified once again for the UEFA Cup.

In 1999-2000, Leeds led the table into the New Year, despite selling star striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to Atletico Madrid. Although Manchester United successfully overtook them, Leeds went into April in second place in the table and a UEFA Cup semi-final. Then, the club was struck by tragedy.

Keeping Leeds together

24 hours before the European semi-final with Galatasaray, two Leeds United supporters were stabbed following altercations in Istanbul and both lost their lives. Leeds lost the semi-final over two legs and were united in grief. It took a lot out of the players who struggled through the remainder of the campaign, winning just one further match. However, they did enough to claim third place and a spot in the 2000-2001 UEFA Champions League after drawing on the final day at Upton Park. It was the least they deserved for a stunning year of football.

O’Leary kept Leeds together in such a tough time and with the added cash for the Champions League adventure, began to splash it out. Rio Ferdinand joined from West Ham United for £18 million and other big arrivals would follow, including Olivier Dacourt, Robbie Keane and Robbie Fowler. Leeds enjoyed their maiden adventure in Europe’s premier club competition. The likes of AC Milan and Deportivo La Coruna were beaten and Leeds went further than any other English side, reaching the semi-finals before bowing out 3-0 on aggregate to Valencia.

Premier League form dipped though. European distractions left Leeds in a lowly 13th place in the table going into 2001 and despite a strong second half of the campaign; they were pipped to third spot on the final day thanks to Liverpool FC’s resounding 4-0 victory at The Valley. It wasn’t known at the time but this would be the start of Leeds’ decline. Peter Risdale had sanctioned transfer fees and spending believing the club would continue qualifying for the Champions League every season. It turned out to be a bad misjudgement.

In 2001-2002, Leeds topped the table again on New Years’ Day but they couldn’t sustain the pace set by Arsenal, Liverpool FC and Manchester United. Newcastle United’s remarkable improvement under Sir Bobby Robson pushed Leeds back into fifth position and another season of UEFA Cup football. Some Leeds fans were losing faith with O’Leary’s lack of silverware despite an enthusiastic approach to the football they were seeing. Risdale agreed and sacked the manager in June 2002.

Onto Villa

After a season on the sidelines, O’Leary returned to management in June 2003, succeeding Graham Taylor as manager of Aston Villa. Villa had finished the previous season in an underwhelming 16th position and were hoping for much better. However, they didn’t have a huge budget as Doug Ellis had rained in the spending. Only the relegated Sunderland duo of Thomas Sorensen and Gavin McCann were acquired in pre-season.

It was a slow start and Villa sunk to 18th in the table when they lost 4-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford in December 2003. Yet, they went on a wonderful run in the second half of the season and only narrowly missed out on UEFA Cup qualification after a final day defeat to the Red Devils. Villa finished in sixth position, keeping O’Leary’s impressive record up of never finishing outside the top six as a Premier League boss.

The next two seasons afterwards were unremarkable and disappointing for all connections. Villa dropped to 10th in 2004-2005 and 16th in 2005-2006. The signings of Milan Baros and Kevin Phillips didn’t quite work out and with Ellis about to sell the club to American businessman Randy Lerner, O’Leary departed in the summer of 2006 by mutual consent.

His only managerial appointment since was a short spell with Al-Ahli in the United Arab Emirates. He won just six of his 15 matches’ in-charge and was sacked in April 2011. A messy two years followed with a financial dispute between the club and O’Leary which was eventually settled with David winning £3.34m in compensation through the FIFA players’ status committee.

O’Leary still lives in Yorkshire today and does some work for Arsenal as a club ambassador.